For the timeline of this, it’s pre-Merriweather. As for the disclaimer, I’m Elf Asato, not Kaori Yuki so Earl Cain doesn’t belong to me. If it did, though, I can tell you we’d all be in slash city by now… Also, credit really has to go to Encyclopedia-san’s 19th century fashion article, which helped me with Cain’s clothing.
Gillian Linscott’s Poison Peach inspired all the stuff about the peaches. Originally I was going to do something else with the irrelevant reason why Cain was out so late, but I started thinking about the peaches in that story and it just seemed so perfect – so perfect that the peaches banded together and took over the story… I don’t know if the bit about potassium cyanide is true, but it was in Poison Peach and I’m just really lazy and unimaginative.
At least I’m honest…
By Elf Asato
Since the rest of the staff had retired to their respective quarters long ago, Riff found himself as the only one up at such a late hour. Though he would wait as long as necessary for his master to return home safely, he actually hated it since Cain rarely did so. Of course, the young earl always managed to come home eventually, but it always seemed that he had a new injury for his servant to attend to… Not to say that Riff disliked attending to his master’s needs, but when it meant that Cain was hurt…
Well, he was grateful for the both of them that he had attended medical school for a while before coming to work for the Hargreaves.
With only a gas lamp to illume the otherwise dark space, Riff paced around anxiously in the main hall, worry eating away at him; he wished desperately for his young master to just come home already. Maybe tomorrow he’d discreetly try to mention how much it worried him when Cain pulled stunts like this… Of course, it all depended on what sort of mood the earl would be in. Everything depended on his mood – the color of the sky, the way the wind blew, how the sun shone – at least, that’s how it was in Riff’s eyes. He could honestly say without a moment’s hesitation that Cain was his world…but at the moment, he was a bit frustrated with him.
Impatience getting to him, he went to double check all the rooms to ensure that nothing was left undone while carefully listening for any sign of his master’s return. Riff never considered himself an impatient person, but at the moment he wanted Cain to come home and Cain to come home now. He caught himself thinking an off thought of how if his young master managed to come back with an injury, he rightfully deserved it for being so inconsiderate and would, perhaps, learn that odd hours of the night are meant for sleeping. Of course, Riff immediately banished that thought from his mind. It was just the frustration from worrying too much that was getting to him – he really didn’t feel that way towards Cain at all.
It was quite hard to keep up with his ever-energetic master who always seemed to attract bad luck, but Riff knew that he wouldn’t trade being with him for anything – not even a second chance at his life. Being Master Cain’s servant was his second chance…and well, taking a third would be impolite. Of course, politeness had nothing to do with it. Riff had known for quite some time why he would never leave Cain’s side; it wasn’t the pay or even the fact that you could never leave the young Hargreaves alone for too long…
It was absolute devotion; and in that case, you just cannot leave.
Riff’s senses immediately alerted him when he heard a languid knocking from the main door’s other side. Intuitively he knew that it was Cain…finally back at home. Taking the gas lamp with him and pulling open the door quickly to usher his young master in, he greeted, “Welcome back, Master Cain.”
A subtle scoff was all he received in reply as Cain trudged through the threshold, carelessly tossing his hat and frock aside.
Riff immediately picked up after him, noticing that for once, Cain seemed to be all right. “I trust you had a nice night out, sir?”
“If you call witnessing a death and being questioned by the Scotland Yard, who thinks you murdered the prat, all night nice, then sure, I had an absolutely fantastic night out, Riff. Thank you so much for bringing that to my mind again,” he growled sarcastically. “Whatever would I do without you?”
Wincing involuntarily as the harshness deeply imbedded within Cain’s voice stung, the servant said nothing as he gently placed the hat on a hook and put the frock away, almost expertly as he’d done it so many times.
Cain must have seen the unintentional pang in Riff’s eyes before turning away because he apologized softly a few seconds later, “Erm…I didn’t mean it like that. Sorry.”
“There’s no need to apologize,” he answered gently with a sympathetic smile. “You’ve had a long day and must be exhausted. Would you like me to prepare a bath for you?”
To Riff’s surprise, Cain ignored the question and asked one of his own. “Do you ever sleep?”
“Of course I do, sir,” he smiled simply, not at all fazed about the ridiculousness of the question or how completely random it appeared to be. “Everyone has to sleep to survive.”
Cain narrowed his eyes at the servant and spoke, like he didn’t quite believe him, “Yes, I know that, but aside from when you’re ill, you never seem to. When do you find time to sleep? You’re always so busy and awake when everyone else in their right mind is sound asleep…like now.”
“I don’t like to sleep until everything is taken care of…including you, Master Cain.”
Riff’s face flashed a pleased expression briefly as Cain muttered nonchalantly, as if talking about the weather, “…You excel at tending to me, so I’ll continue to need you indefinitely.”
“That’s the best compliment you can give me. Thank you,” the servant smiled sheepishly, bowing slightly as his master returned the awkward smile with one of his own. “Would you still like me to prepare a bath for you, sir?”
Cain yawned and a wave of contentment graced his features as he debated internally between a hot bath and sleep. “Hm, I feel like I’d probably just fall asleep in the middle of it…so no, not tonight. I’d rather just go to bed,” he muttered, walking off. Pausing, though, he looked back at Riff with an innocent gleam in his greenish-gold eyes and it almost seemed contradictory. “It wouldn’t be proper if I were to retire to my room inadequately attired… I trust you’ll attend to me?”
“Of course,” Riff replied without hesitation in his mind or speech, although he did have quite a few remarks to bite back as he followed his young master up the elegant stairwell.
No matter how many guests they entertained or servants the Hargreaves family employed, the large house always seemed so lonely with only a golden-green light flitting from room to room as the only semblance of actual life. Much like how the glow from the gas lamp illuminated the stairwell they traveled up, casting shadows into darkness and giving the impression that the two men bathed in the light were the only souls in the world, Riff noted; he rather liked that feeling.
Vaguely aware of his master’s light voice breaking into his senses, he adjusted rather slowly to the sensation of the comfortable silence being broken by something other than the sound of their own footsteps.
Cain had reached the top of the stairs in apparent lethargy as he continued on, with Riff catching the tail end of what he had been saying: “…And so they brought the two of us in for interrogation since we had been the only witnesses to the murder. The officer questioned me more so than Margaret because of my apparent expertise in poisons and the fact that her much-hated brother Roger was murdered by means of potassium cyanide. Rather unfair world, isn’t it?”
Not exactly sure if his master was serious or sarcastic, Riff simply murmured, as if the stillness of the dark combined with the late hour had absorbed most of the sound, “Yes, sir.”
Deaf to the servant’s brief bemusement, he continued on as the two made their way into the master’s bedroom, “When I suggested the possibility that it was the peach Roger had been eating that held his death, they questioned me on that as well… Asking me if I had been the one to inject the cyanide into the peach that Roger ate… Even if I did, I wouldn’t tell them. It was questions like those that really got on my nerves.”
“That it would be,” Riff answered briefly as he discarded the gas lamp in his hand and carefully lit those in the room to give off substantial light in addition to the already-burning fireplace that the footman had lit earlier to warm the room for Cain’s arrival. Of course, that had been hours ago.
Sitting in a chair over by the fireplace, the young earl crossed his arms rather impatiently and waited for Riff to finish lighting all the gas lamps. Cain continued on when his servant came back to him and began untying, later removing, the shoes he wore: “I suggested that they question the estate’s gardener about the peaches, but they were intent on bothering me about it…” As he stood up from the chair and the servant immediately removed the young master’s jacket and vest, Cain murmured an almost bitter addendum, “…Trying to get at accusing me of Roger’s murder, which really wasn’t a murder at all.”
Riff had removed the ascot and started on unbuttoning his master’s shirt when he asked, “If the peach was injected with potassium cyanide, then how could it not have been murder?” He paused his unbuttoning and briefly looked up to see Cain’s lips draw into that familiar smirk the servant knew too well.
“In gardening, potassium cyanide is used to kill wasps that might otherwise be attracted to the sweet fruit. Of course, it’s typically soaked into a cloth and put on a stake by the tree, not injected within the fruit itself. The only ones with the capability for that were the gardener and his workers. Fortunately for Margaret and myself, the said gardener rushed himself to the station upon hearing what had happened,” Cain explained as Riff abandoned the unbuttoned shirt and left it draping loose across slender shoulders, moving on to remove his trousers and undergarments.
“And what had happened, sir?” Riff inquired when his young master’s voice took a curious pause after stepping out of his trousers.
With his undergarments following, he continued as per request, “As I had thought, it was the gardener who had injected the entire row of peach trees with potassium cyanide as an experiment in conditioning the wasps into avoiding the fruit entirely. An original idea, but deadly to Roger who shouldn’t have eaten the unripe peach in the first place. With my insistence, the gardener had left the incident scot-free. …Of course, I’m not sure why they couldn’t have taken my word in the first place…”
Hoping that his subtle smile wouldn’t be seen in the soft glow of the fireplace, Riff slipped the shirt off and reached for an elegant robe to wrap his slender master in. As he made sure the robe was comfortable against Cain’s body, he said softly, “Let me fetch the bed warmer and soon you’ll have a nice, warm bed to fall asleep in.”
Yawning at such a pleasant thought, Cain nodded and settled himself in the chair, watching the servant leave with a lamp.
Riff returned to the room a little while later with the bed warmer and caught a rare glimpse of his master looking so delicate as he stared pensively into the fire. Saying nothing to disturb that perfect image, he silently lifted the sheets and ran the metal across the bed. Ensuring that it was warm enough for his master’s tastes, he quickly spread the sheets back over the bed to trap the heat and spoke softly as he discarded the bed warmer, “…Master Cain…”
As if those two words shattered his reverie, Cain – slightly startled – stood up from his chair and trudged over to the side of his bed, looking and feeling very much half-asleep.
Riff removed the robe and tucked his master into the warm bed, carefully hiding that small smile as Cain let out a content sigh. “Will that be all?” he asked as he left to turn out all the gas lamps in the room, leaving only the fireplace glowing. As he came back and bent to turn out the lamp on the bedside stand, he heard his master murmur affirmatively, already half lost in the realm of sleep. “Good night, sir,” he whispered, letting that smile play across his face, and gathered the bed warmer along with his master’s discarded clothing. He left the room in silence with a bundle in one hand and his own gas lamp – the only one burning – in the other.
Passing a grandfather clock on his way downstairs to his quarters, Riff lifted the lamp to illume the face and groaned when he saw what time it was. He and the rest of the servants were to be up in two hours.
With a sigh, he managed his way to his quarters, where he promptly shed his work attire in favor of sleepwear and collapsed on his bed – out before he hit the comfort of his sheets.
Delicately immersed in a dreamless sleep, Riff was barely aware of a sudden dip in the mattress near his legs and the warmth that took over them. As he was slowly pulled out of that haven by the intrusion on his bed, he vaguely felt a gentle pressure on his knees; it was almost as if they were being caressed, if only very slightly. Sleepy eyes fluttered open, reacting to a soft glow, and a thick drawl captured Riff’s voice, “Mm…?”
“Oh – I didn’t mean to disturb you,” a soft voice whispered and the caressing sensation on his knee stopped abruptly, the feeling replaced with a sort of incompleteness by the lack of warmth once felt. “Sorry about that.”
The voice and blurred image before him all struck Riff as painfully familiar, and a few quick blinks cleared his vision, providing an answer.
“Master Cain!” Riff cried out suddenly, almost in horror on the earl’s behalf, as his said master sat with a gas lamp on a servant’s bedside in a servant’s room – a most unsuitable place for a member of the upper class. “What are you–”
The sight of those haunting eyes gazing plaintively at him while lithe fingers wrapped fiercely around the belt of an elegant robe ceased all words. “I had a nightmare,” replied Cain simply, with such unnerving placidity that seemed almost atypical.
“…Oh…” Riff murmured softly as he sat motionless, unsure of what to do with the situation at hand. He knew that his young master suffered more demons than anyone should ever know, if the numerous scars on his back were any proof, and was, at times like these, very fragile after nightmarish memories; each move on his part had to be very deliberate and comforting so as not to damage him any further. “…A servant’s humble abode is most unsuitable for someone as valued as yourself. Why don’t we get you back to bed and I’ll prepare some warm milk for you…”
“You ate me.”
Half stunned by the statement itself and half stunned by the abrupt manner in which it was stated, Riff felt resigned to just simply stare at the earl, with his mind absolutely blank and any semblance of intelligent or halfway coherent speech gone.
Finally he managed, “…Come again?”
“I was a peach and you ate me,” Cain replied, as if the fact of his words was not at all unusual, but then his voice took on a slightly darker nuance, “…but I was poisoned…and so you died…”
The peach and the events earlier that morning – it made sense to the servant that Cain would dream up something like that. Feeling more at ease with what to do, Riff reassured gently with warm eyes, “It was just a nightmare, sir, so it wasn’t real… Now why don’t we get you to bed and I’ll prepare that cup of warm milk.”
As Riff turned up his sheets and moved to leave his bed, Cain unexpectedly clutched at the servant’s chest harshly and, with desperation evident in his tone, pleaded, “Please don’t eat me!”
Stifling a half chuckle, the servant reassured gently as he wrapped his hands around Cain’s white fists delicately, “Don’t worry, sir. I’m in no danger whatsoever of doing that.” His thumbs gently pried into each fist ably, loosening their grip on his sleepwear, and placed them softly against their owner. “Let’s get you to bed, sir…” he murmured soothingly. With that said, he slipped out of his bed quickly, so as Cain wouldn’t have an opportunity to grab hold of him again, and slipped on a modest robe – slightly embarrassed that his master had been in his room and seen him without his proper attire.
“Promise?” Cain pressed as Riff touched his shoulder lightly to lead him out of the room with the gas lamp in hand. When he nodded affirmatively, the young earl continued on as they walked down the dark hallway, with only a glow to light their way, “I’d poison you if you did – I’m poisoned, you know…”
A sigh escaped Riff’s lips and he turned his head away to hide the smile, “Sir, if I were to eat you, being poisoned would be the least of my worries.” As Cain stopped abruptly as they were about to ascend the stairwell, he glanced back at him and was surprised to see such a melancholic expression grace his master’s rather beautiful face. “And furthermore,” Riff soothed, “you are not poisoned.”
Cain simply let out a rather inarticulate grunt and started up the stairs again, but it was apparent that he was relieved by Riff’s calming reassurances. He began to explain, “It was a beautiful day and I was just hanging from a branch with all these other peaches; we were all on a peach tree, you know, lined up in an outstanding orchard and there were at least twenty to thirty peaches per tree,” he continued to explain as he, almost in a daze from lack of sleep, traveled up the stairs with the servant at his heels, “I can’t remember how many peaches the particular tree I was on had, but I imagine it was probably the same number. Anyway, it was a beautiful, sunny day and the breeze was gently blowing.”
Pausing slightly as he reached the top of the stairs, Cain went to lead the way to the master bedroom. “I saw you walking down the orchard and I wanted to talk to you, but couldn’t since I was, well, a peach, so I just watched you. Then you came up to my tree and started picking peaches – that’s when you plucked me out of the tree,” he explained as they entered his room.
“Do tell,” Riff interjected at the appropriate time as he moved to carefully set the gas lamp on a nightstand and re-fluff the master’s pillows.
“You put me in the basket and started to walk along…but then stopped and took me out,” Cain murmured as he yawned from watching Riff turn up the covers. Without even waiting for the servant to say anything, he shed his robe onto the floor and crawled into his bed – being irresistibly drawn in by its comfort.
With a smile only barely illuminated by the sole glow of the gas lamp, Riff asked softly, “Would you like that cup of warm milk I mentioned earlier?” When his master answered negatively, he pulled the covers over the thin, bare body and tucked him in snugly, ensuring to his satisfaction that Cain would stay warm until he felt the want to rise out of bed. For once he wasn’t quite worried about the mattress being improperly warmed; Cain had barely been out of bed for very long. “Try to get some sleep, sir.”
“You ate me,” Cain yawned as he wriggled further under the sheets; his chin reached the tip of the cover and stuck out, making him look both impish and impossibly angelic. “And since I was poisoned, you died.”
“As I said before,” Riff reassured delicately as he gazed upon his master sympathetically, “there’s nothing to worry about; it was just a dream, and you are not poisoned…but if you are, I just happen to like poison.”
“You’re queer,” Cain muttered, half lost in the realm of sleep with a content expression gracing his face.
Riff smiled softly and whispered to himself as he carried the gas lamp off with him, “I’m the queer one…?” He exited the grand room, feeling quite sluggish on his feet, and descended the stairwell, witnessing several maids scurrying on the floor when he reached the bottom. Glancing at the grandfather clock across the room, Riff had this sudden, sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“Good morning, Mr. Riff!” a younger maid greeted cheerfully as she passed him. “Ready for a new day?” He barely had time to answer negatively to that when she continued, “Oh, and did the master come home alright? I know you stayed up for him…”
“Unfortunately yes,” Riff nearly growled under his breath, overwhelmed by that feeling of somehow getting the short end of the stick.
“What was that?” the maid asked curiously.
The maid’s perkiness – she was one of the newly hired younger ones – quite frankly made him sick. “That’s good that the master got home, at least. See, the cook wanted to know what he’d like for breakfast. Would you happen to know, sir?”
Riff had hardly slept two hours after first waiting for the young master to decide he was tired of his latest escapade and finally come home and then staying up with and escorting the said master to his room after him waking the servant up at an ungodly hour to tell of a nightmare in which he was a peach. Keeping the morning’s events in mind, he answered automatically and with all deliberation:
This was my very first Cain fic and it really was fun to write! Well, the beginning got off to a slow start, then the peaches came and took over, and later, the bunnies came in…
It’s an odd thing about the bunnies – see, they’re slowly taking over everyone’s lives! A phenomenal, thing, really. They even wrote my omake! I was just innocently writing and when I thought I had come to the end, I reread everything and just went: “What the heck…that’s not how it was supposed to go!” Then I made it into an omake because I didn’t want to just delete it. It starts off where Cain’s telling Riff about his dream in detail.
Cain simply let out a rather inarticulate grunt and started up the stairs again, but it was apparent that he was relieved by Riff’s calming reassurances. He began to explain, “It was a beautiful day and I was just hanging from a branch with all these other peaches – we were all on a peach tree, you know.”
“Oh? Was this just a solitary peach tree or were you in an orchard, sir?” Riff asked as he expertly feigned vague interest.
“We were all lined up in an outstanding orchard and there were at least twenty to thirty peaches per tree,” he continued to explain as he, almost in a daze from lack of sleep, traveled up the stairs with the servant at his heels, “I can’t remember how many peaches the particular tree I was on had, but I imagine it was probably the same number. Anyway–”
“Oh god there’s an anyway…” Riff groaned, barely audible under his breath.
“What was that?”
“Anyway, it was a beautiful, sunny day and the breeze was gently blowing. I saw you walking down the orchard and I wanted to talk to you, but couldn’t since I was, well, a peach, so I just watched you. Then you came up to my tree and started picking peaches – that’s when you plucked me out of the tree. You put me in the basket and started to walk along, but then you stopped and took me out. That’s when you ate me,” Cain explained.
“Did it hurt?”
“No, not really,” he answered as he stopped at the top of the stairs, “even though I was poisoned, I was actually quite juicy and sweet.”
“Were you now? Do tell,” Riff said with a considerable amount of more interest as he followed to the master bedroom.
“Well, when you bit into me, I dribbled down your chin, but you just licked me and wiped me off. You had a napkin with you, you know.”
“Did I, sir?”
“Well it always helps to come prepared, even in dreams.”
“Does it, now? Well, I suppose if you hadn’t had one, I would have just dribbled down your neck and onto your clothes, making you very sticky. Yes, I do suppose it’s wise to come prepared in your dreams,” Cain said absently as they entered his room, “Anyway, you licked me and then took another bite; this time I was more juicy than before. You wiped a lot of me off your chin, and then sucked the juice off a little.”
“Oh…did I now?”
“Yes, I’m quite sure that you did. I was very juicy after all.”
“Wait…you’re talking about peaches, right?” Riff asked hesitantly.
Cain nodded in the darkness and removed his robe, continuing, “Of course. What did you think I was talking about? Anyway, then you nibbled my skin and – Riff, I daresay, are you blushing?”
“Uh…blushing…? W-why on earth would I be doing that?” Riff stammered, holding the gas lamp away from his face and more, conveniently, towards Cain.
Providing an answer, Cain offered, “Probably because I’m just standing before you nude.”
“Well yeah – er, I mean, I’ve never blushed before…” Riff weakly defended as Cain removed the gas lamp from his hands and discarded in on a nightstand.
“That’s probably because I’ve never talked about you sucking me off before…”
“…You make it sound so vulgar…”
“I do, don’t I?” Cain admitted flippantly. “Anyway…where was I?”
“I was nibbling your skin, sir.”
“Oh yes, that’s right… You nibbled my skin and every time you’d tear a little piece off, you’d lick the juice underneath and – Riff, what is it this time?”
Riff spoke vaguely as he drew closer to Cain, “That…skin nibbling. Sounds very complicated, sir.”
“Only if you have the brain the size of a pea, my dear Riff.”
“Well, what I meant was…would it go something like this, sir?” Riff murmured as he bent down to Cain’s neck and nibbled lightly at the skin.
“Hmm, yes, but you actually tore the skin off and ate it…”
“Er…out of common courtesy I’ll skip that part of my demonstration…”
“Common courtesy?” Cain asked curiously as Riff continued at his neck.
“Well yes. It’d be rather rude to tear someone’s flesh off, I’d imagine.”
“…Hmm, I suppose. I’d imagine it would be rather rude, not to mention unpleasant. …And out of curiosity, what exactly are you demonstrating with your nibbling?”
Riff faltered. “Ah…ah…I’m a…bunny…?”
“Well I daresay – if you’re a bunny, then I suppose that makes me one, too. And since we’re both apparently that particular type of rodent, what do you say we do like the bunnies?”
“And how do the bunnies do, sir?” Riff asked politely, feigning innocence.
“Well they go at it like…ah…ah…um…”
“…I think we need to make a new simile, Riff…”
“Duly noted, sir.”
March 8 – June 1, 2003